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‘The opportunities are there’: 2018’s vital trends in sponsorship

From tech to sport, 2018 presents some exciting opportunities for live and brand partnerships, says Ear to the Ground's Jack Ward

By IQ on 11 Apr 2018

Spotify Who We Be Live, Alexandra Palace

Spotify's Who We Be at Ally Pally was booked using data from the streaming platform

Newsflash: live matters.

OK, not much of a newsflash – we know that a healthy live sector makes for a healthy music industry. We know very well that live music has a transformative role in turning passive listeners into passionate, irrational fans who are willing to spend their time and hard-earned cash on music.

As it stands, live music in the UK is in as good health as it has ever been: audiences for concerts and festivals rose 12% between 2016 and 2017, bringing £4 billion (€4.5bn) into the UK economy.

But the industry isn’t immune to change. Competition has never been as fierce, and the need to use insight to better understand and engage with fans is vital to thriving in a tough business. Changes in fan behaviour mean that the live sector will have to reinvent itself or risk irrelevance.

So what are the changes that will make the greatest impact on the relationship between brands and live music in 2018? We could spend an hour or two positing the inevitable disruption of the sector as changing expectations and the proliferation of new tech adapts the way fans engage with the live experience. However, this article isn’t an exercise in navel-gazing about what will happen in the next five years; there’s no mention of Pokémon Go and the gamification of the live experience. Let’s talk about what’s happening right now.

There are three significant shifts in thinking that could have a transformative impact on the industry this year.

“2018 will see sport and entertainment properties further extend their reach into live to retain and engage their fans”

1. Sport and entertainment crossover
According to industry expert Jeremy Paterson, MD of IF Media: “Real opportunities won’t come from a simple appendage of sport or tech onto music and vice versa. The real magic happens when powerful cultures collide: two add two suddenly equals seven, and a whole new ritual like the Super Bowl halftime show moment is created.

“The opportunities are there, now it’s about having the bravery to take them.”

With live more crowded and competitive than ever, it will be little comfort that the sector may face increasing competition from properties in sport and entertainment. For example, although music has been an integral part of fan culture, in sport it’s only very recently that rights holders have woken up to the opportunity of using music to supercharge the fan experience.

Top-tier clubs and rights holders in football are repositioning themselves less as sports brands but rather as “premium entertainment” properties, with big spenders like Chelsea, Juventus and PSG at the forefront of adding music to their fan offer. Paul Pogba and Stormzy teamed up to announce the French player’s arrival at Manchester United in a way that had never been done before.

At a more grassroots level, football’s inherent connection with grime culture was brought thrillingly to life by Tottenham when rising artist AJ Tracey put on a live gig with several performers to launch the club’s new kit, coinciding with a release of his single ‘False 9’.

But what about the reverse? What about music or live properties using sport to enhance their offer?So far, the sector has been slow to latch on to the huge potential of sport to entice and engage music fans. We’ve seen streaming behemoths like Deezer and Apple Music partner with football clubs to reach global audiences but in live it’s a rarity to see venues and festivals use sport as a point of difference. Ministry of Sound made waves last year by launching its first fitness club in London, but it would be good to see a live music property really take the opportunity to combine music with sport and fitness to attract new audiences.

Twenty-eighteen will see sport and entertainment properties further extend their reach into live to retain and engage their fans. However, there remains an opportunity for the live music sector to successfully partner with sport and entertainment properties to create a musical identity that extends beyond large-scale, glitzy events.

“The lines between music product and live performance have blurred considerably”

2. New tech, new rules
New technology-based ways for fans to enjoy music mean the reach and impact of live is being felt far beyond the events themselves. But let’s be blunt: some advances in live tech are having more immediate impact than others. VR has huge ramifications for the live industry, and while there have been some interesting experiments at festivals and large-scale sporting events, until it gains mainstream acceptance and penetration among music fans, its presence is a curiosity rather than an immediate opportunity.

Live streaming is an altogether different proposition that is already having an immediate impact. The opportunities for fan engagement using livestreaming platforms are certainly striking; specialist live broadcasting platform YouNow says 80% of music consumers are likely to take commercial action after watching a live broadcast from one of their favourite musicians, while 86% of fans are likely to seek out more of an artist’s songs.

But, so far, it feels like live streaming hasn’t been used effectively to augment the concert experience. There have, however, been exceptions that have used the platform to brilliant effect. Afropunk Festival had huge success by livestreaming sets, behind-the-scenes access and interviews with artists and influencers. With a passionate Facebook audience of one million, it was a no-brainer to digitise the festival experience, with one fashion-centric recap of day one of the festival gaining 200,000 views.

Another exciting use of live-streaming was Gorillaz and Goldenvoice’s Demon Dayz Festival in Margate, UK, a partnership with Red Bull to help launch their latest release, Humanz. More than a straightforward streamed performance of the band, fans were able to see live streams of standalone gigs from Damon Albarn’s many collaborators, including Vince Staples, De La Soul, Little Simz, and Danny Brown, across multiple channels on Red Bull TV. It was an execution befitting the world’s pre-eminent amorphous alt-pop project, in that it allowed fans both at home and at the event itself to pick and choose from the sonic and visual worlds of the band, and curate their own experiences of the festival.

Those are two exciting and innovative examples, but there’s still plenty of room for smaller venues and event properties to take advantage of fans consuming live content online. With entry-level costs to streaming relatively inexpensive, 2018 will see pioneering events and venues utilising the technology to engage fans beyond the live experience itself.

“The opportunities are there, now it’s about having the bravery to take them”

3. Blurring boundaries
The lines between music product and live performance have blurred considerably over the last five years. Live curation is being increasingly led by data-driven decision-making, allowing curators and promoters to make smarter decisions when using live music to connect with fans.

While tech/streaming giants have made previous forays into live (RIP iTunes Festival), 2017 was the year that we truly saw the power of the playlist not just in breaking artists and bands, but as a real force in the sector. Playlists on streaming services have morphed from a user-generated curiosity to major properties with huge curatorial teams that have the power to make or break a track.

This year, Spotify UK turned a hugely popular playlist, the grime/UK hip hop-led Who We Be (250,000 subscribers) into a live event showcasing artists that had particularly strong engagement with fans on the streaming platform. The event, which took place at Alexandra Palace in London, proved to be a huge commercial and critical success. With a line-up that included Cardi B, Dizzee Rascal, Giggs and J Hus, it was the crowning moment of an incredible year for UK urban music.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the live iteration of Who We Be was so successful – with a ready-made passionate audience, taking it into the physical realm was a simple way of broadening the appeal of the playlist’s brand across another touchpoint.

What was really clever was that Spotify used detailed fan-usage data to choose the acts, offer pre-sale tickets to playlist subscribers and specifically target the most engaged fans of artists who frequently appeared on it with promotional marketing. The result was a passionate festival crowd who even cheered the tracks (featuring up-and-coming UK artists Not3s and Lotto Boyzz) in the intervals between performances.

The lesson? Investing in media/audio properties to build audiences that can then cross over into live is very worthwhile. Rather than starting from scratch trying to build a live property, you already have an engaged audience, a long list of artists to curate, and a means by which to immediately monetise and incentivise a fan base. Owning or allying with an online music media property gives you access to a huge amount of audience data that you can then translate into creating fan-led live experiences.

Live remains a challenging and competitive environment, but with a little bit of lateral thinking there are huge opportunities. Whether crossing over with entertainment, using streaming to broaden your existing audiences or investing in building media brands that can drive audiences to venues and events, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the live music business.

The promoters, venues and artists who are brave enough to seize the big opportunities to engage with fans in new ways will reap the rewards.


Ear to the Ground delivers industry leading sport and music campaigns driven by Fan Intelligence™. 

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